Margaret Sanger, "Testimony Before the United States Senate on S. 1842," 18 Jan 1934.
Source: " Birth Control: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate Seventy-Third Congress Second Session on S. 1842 (Washington, 1934), pp. 14-21, and 149-163."
The following excerpt from the hearings, includes only Margaret Sanger's testimony and the questions she answered. The chairman of the meeting was Senator Marvel Mills Logan.
Mrs. SANGER. Mr. Chairman, this bill, S. 1842, concerns, in my estimation, the 32,612,792 women of child-bearing age in this country. I believe that it concerns that number of women, because every woman, when she becomes of adult age, naturally looks forward to the time when she may be married and become a mother. There are 20,441,719 married women of child-bearing age in this country.
I have had the privilege of coining the term by which this bill is likely to be know, "birth control" legislation. I would like to say that birth control means the control of the birth rate, by means that prevent conception. It does not mean that it interferes with the development of life; it does not mean that it interrupts the process of life nor that it takes life. The prevention of conception is not any more an interference with the process of life than remaining single or living in continence or celibacy. In the control of the birth rate we do not mean that we must limit the birth rate. It means to control the size of the family, but it does not mean limit it to 1 or 2 or to any specific number of children. We want the first consideration to be of the health of the mother; then the consideration of the health of the children that are already here; then consideration of the father's ability to earn a living for his family and the standard of the living that the parents wish to maintain for the cultivation and the education of the family. I would just like to make that definition clear for that is what we are talking about in using the term "birth control", as it may be used by other speakers.
Some years ago as a trained nurse, I found that I could not discuss this question with mothers; that I was unable to get information to assist them, even after they had been told by the doctors that another baby would cost them their lives. We found that the main thing in the way of doing that was sections 211 and 245 of the Penal code, passed by the Congress 61 years ago.
Mr. Chairman, in looking over the record and the history of that law and the way it was placed upon the statute books, I contend and believe that Congress at that time never intended that persons should be deprived of knowledge by which they could reasonably rear and care for their children. The whole law and all the discussion around it at that time, as we find it in the record, has relation to obscene literature coming to this country that was being circulated among young people. The intention of the law was to stop the circulation of indecent literature, and the prohibition of information to prevent conception never was intended in the sense of its rightful use. I cannot believe that any Congress then or today would want to deprive mothers of knowledge they rightfully should have for the benefit of the family and really for the benefit of the community and the country.
The law as it is set forth in sections 211 and 245 makes no exception. It does not exempt the medical profession or permit them to use the mails or the common carriers. It makes no exemption for scientific or medical literature, to permit such to go through the mails or by common carriers. We fell that the United States mails should be opened for information on this subject to those qualified to make proper use of it for the good of the country
I have here, Mr. Chairman, the laws to which this bill pertains and a small leaflet that we brought forth on Federal interference with the administration of State laws, with which we contend this law does interfere; and also a brief summary and a general exemption in certain cases. In New York State, through my spending 30 days in jail, I was able to have a court decision that interpreted one of the laws of our State, by which the physician could give information for the "cure and prevention of disease." Many of the other States have similar laws. Some of the States give the right to anyone; other States allow teaching of the subject in medical colleges and universities, and so on
If you will permit it, I would like to place this in the record, as indicating what has been done in the way of Federal interference with the administration of these State lawsSenator LOGAN. You may do so (The statement of the present law and summary of the State law referred to was marked "Exhibit B"; and the pamphlet entitled "Federal Interference with the Administration of State Laws", was marked "Exhibit C"; both of which appear at the close of the statement of this witness.)
Mrs. SANGER. Because of these state laws and under the authority and the right of the State laws, people who are interested in this subject and are connected with social and civil work in the communities have established over 150 of what we call "birth-control clinics" throughout the country. those are legally established centers, but they have to bootleg their supplies from New York and Chicago, where the large manufacturing concerns are located. That is the situation today, and it is a situation that, to my mind, is very reprehensible and that we hope to change through this bill, S. 1842, by allowing the physicians, licensed clinics, and hospitals the right to use the States mails and common carriers for that legitimate and rightful purpose Section 211 also makes it a crime for anyone to tell anyone else where such information may be obtained. In other words, these clinics that are legally established in various States not only have to bootleg their supplies but also bootleg any proper modern information than the people had 40 or 50 years ago, which should being in the ark. In order to get any new, scientific information, they have to bootleg it. Most physicians do not like to put themselves in that position.
Mr. Chairman, I have had a million letters from women in this country from the time I began this campaign of education up until about 4 years ago. I have had a million personal letters about the hardships of some of these women. I have had to jeopardize my freedom, run the risk of a $5,000 fine and five years in prison for violating section 211, by telling these women where in their own States they could obtain that which they were legally entitled to under their own State laws
That is what we are fighting for. We want to do away with this bootlegging. Representative Pierce told you about that article in the New Republic called "Birth Control's Business Baby." He did not ask you to put it in the record, because it does show the things we are trying to do away with; that these things are surreptitiously done; that the manufacturers of commercial products are producing them at very high prices because of the laws which have created this situationsSenator LOGAN. That may be incorporated in the record. The document referred to was marked "Exhibit D", and is printed in full at the close of the statement of this witness.
Mrs. SANGER. There is no particular avenue or direction for these people to go in which to get the right information. They have to go to the drug store and have it whispered over the counter that this or that will do. And we know from our recent research that many of these products are not effective. We have purchased 100 so-called "contraceptives" and put them through scientific tests. We put them through laboratory tests and had clinical tests, and submitted them to physicians, and we found that 43 out of the 100 were practically of no use whatever. Purchasing those things has caused many women serious injury. We have not gone into that very thoroughly yet, because we have just tested them as to their efficaciousness, and 43 out of the 100 were of no use. It means a fraud is being perpetrated upon the public. This is a brief statement of the results of our research that I would like to have go into the record.Senator LOGAN. That may be incorporated in the record. (The document referred to was marked "Exhibit E", and is printed in full at the close of the statement of this witness.)
Mrs. SANGER. If I may stress this, by way of a little explanation when we talk about the question of preventing contraception we claim there are three methods of preventing conception. The first is continence. No one objects to continence. We have no objection whatever to certain religious orders claiming that is the only method the church can sanction. There is nothing in the law against it. They may practice it, and we say that this is their own affair, their own individual right.
The next is sterilization. Sterilization is for people who have to responsibility toward parenthood or toward children. It is becoming more and more prevalent, as you know from reports from England, Germany, and other countries. We have in this country over 24 states that have sterilization laws, allowing certain authorities to advise sterilization in special cases where there are transmissible diseases or certain transmissible ailments. That is not a part of our provision.
Then there is the chemical or the mechanical means of contraception, which is one that places in the hands of the parties involved the legal right to use means to prevent contraception, and it is around that group that most of the discussion seems to be centered.
There is nothing mandatory about this bill. We are not imposing any method upon anybody. We are not claiming that every family must obtain this information, but we do say for those who wish to use some means they should have the legal right to do it, and those who wish to use one particular means or no means at all should not have the right to impose that upon the whole community. We claim that we have a perfect right to use such method as our Physician indicates is the right one for the individual.
As we have stated, we are making no claim that any one means or method is a panacea for all. Various women differ. They differ as to the number of children, and their physical conditions become different. The economic situation is also different. We want to place the giving of information in the hands of those who can disseminate it properly, so that those desiring it may receive instructions and necessary scientific advice from those who are qualified to give it. It is just the same as the 10-cent pair of glasses in a 10-cent store. That is no way for people who need to have them to have glasses fitted. We want this subject removed from the 10-cent store and the gasoline stations and placed in the hands of those who are qualified in every way to explain the relations of parenthood properly.
Mr. Chairman, we have had to go through many difficulties in connection with this subject since 1914. Some of us have served time in jail, We have been arrested time and again, just because we wished to exercise the right of freedom of speech and help educate those who were in need of help. We have been able to get some decisions from the courts that have in a way interpreted these laws in different ways, especially in the States. Members of Congress have said to us:
You will never get anything through Congress. Why do you not go to jail and get your court decision?
I say Congress should be ashamed to compel us to go to such extremes and to resort to such methods for our laws. Why should we have to go to the courts to have our laws made? That is what Congress is for. People have a right to look to Congress and to bring these questions before it. We should not have to go to the expense of lawsuits and go to courts to have our laws made. I think you will all agree with that.
Now, then, as to the clinics: There are 157 birth-control clinics in this country. I have a statement here of the number of those clinics and the location, but I do no know whether I can put that in the record or not. There may be some question of a violation of section 211.
Senator LOGAN. That may be filed with the committee, and we will treat it as a privileged communication.
(The document referred to was marked "Exhibit F", and is filed with the committee.)
Mrs. SANGER. I want to talk a little about the waste of life, a fact which brought me into this cause more than anything else. First, I was to refer to the terrific number of abortions that are going on, which is a colossal number. I think we can show from the record that it runs over a million a year, and that does not begin to tell the story. There is the waste of women's lives, the waste of child life, and the terrible suffering of women. No woman can keep her health and continue to go through these operations with increasing pregnancy every year, especially when it is done surreptitiously. The condition of those nervous and unhealthy women is something really beyond our belief or understanding, and it is terrible that we should have to make it necessary for the women of America to go into these dangerous conditions and live under those conditions which I would call an underworld of suffering. It seems to me to be a state of barbarism.
Dr. Woodbury, of the United States Children's Bureau, published some very interesting data where he clearly shows that too short an interval between childbirths markedly affects the infant death rate. Where the interval between births is 3 years, the infant death rate is 80.5 per 1,000 births; when the interval is 2 years, the rate is 98.6; and when it is only 1 year, the infant mortality goes up to 146.7. Certainly that is a very striking increase.
In homes, for instance, where the average number of persons per room is less than 1, the infant death rate is 52.1; where it is 2 or more persons per room the death rate is 135.7. Furthermore, in families where the per capita income from the father's earnings was less than $50 the infant mortality rate was 215.9, as compared with a rate of only 60.5 where the per capita amount averaged #400 or over. These figures clearly and strikingly indicate the influence of family over-crowding upon family well-being.
I would like to read this little thing about Jimmy. Nobody wanted Jimmy, but he was born anyhow, and died three weeks later. His mother was sick with worry before he came. Childbearing in 1925, 1927, 1929, and 1931 had left her in miserable health, with bad varicose veins. his father was a $25-per-week mechanic working part time. Which of us, under such circumstance, would look forward to the birth of Jimmy? The community did not want him. Philadelphia's relief burden in 1932 was approximately $11,000,000.
Yet this community gave his mother prenatal care, which amounted to $6.75. A social agency boarded his 4 brothers and sisters over 13 weeks, at a cost of $170.50. His mother was in the hospital 20 days, at a cost of $80. The layettte for the baby cost $7. He contracted meningitis at home and was given medical care and nursing by the city, at a cost of $15.25. He died and was buried free by the community, which cost $30. So his short and painful life cost the community $309.50.
Ask yourself, was it fair for Jimmy to be born at this time, with no chance for a happy childhood? Was it fair to his brothers and sisters when the father made enough money for food only, with no money for rent or clothing? Was it fair to the community which is now supporting over 70,000 families?
We believe that a child's first right is to be wanted. We believe that hunger and fear cannot create a wholesome home for a baby. We believe that during this crisis the community cannot now keep in health and decency the children who are here.
I also have some interesting statistics submitted by Prof. Joseph J. Spengler, University of Arizona, in relation to conditions in Colorado, to which I should like to call attention to very briefly.
In Weld County, Greeley, Colorado, the county commissioners pay for birth-control supplies. The cost of supplying the patient with birth-control supplies is approximately $1.50. The cost of the indigent woman either through a confinement case or through a miscarriage, which averages about once a year, in each case was $50 for hospitalization, nursing, and pre-natal and post-natal care. This is the actual cost to the county and does not include the cost of caring for the child later.
The county estimated that there are about 200 such cases yearly, making a total cost of $10,000 per year. For $300 it was possible then to save $10,000.
We wish to point out, however, since this clinic is a branch of the Denver clinic, and obtains birth-control supplies from the Denver clinic, that we find the country breaking the Federal laws by having birth-control supplies shipped through the mails.
I have just two or three letters here that I would like to call you attention to. The first is from Corydon, KY., and reads as follows:
I read your address in the Evansville Press, and I wonder if you could help me any. I have two children. My mother has 10. I am only 20 years old, I live in fear all the time for I never know when I will get that way again. My oldest child is hairlipped and we want it fixed; part of it has been fixed but haven't the money to do any more. My husband only makes $10 a week so you see it is all we can do to live. I will never forget it if you will tell me how to keep from having children. I will tell my mother; her youngest child is younger than mine. It is terrible; if you will only tell me I will do anything in the world for you I can.
This woman could have been sent to Louisville where there is a birth-control clinic. We could have had a social worker take her there. It would pay the people of Kentucky to pay her carfare to that point and take care of her. In order to try to save that woman I had to jeopardize my freedom and run the risk of a $5,000 fine to tell her where she could go to get decent information to protect herself.
Here is another letter from Memphis along the same lines, which I should like to read:
In regard to Birth-control bill S. 1842, how I wish all those people, priest and all that are so bitter against birth control, had to have babies every 9 months and know what it is to see little children hungry and cold, not to say anything about the slave life the poor mother is living and the suffering she goes through. I will do all I can for the cause. I haven't any money--we are sure having a struggle these days to make ends meet. Only hope the bill goes through for we poor women need help if anything or anybody does.
I worry so much. I have such a hard time. Oh, I don't want any more babies--am half crazy - am half tempted to leave my husband, but then how would I get along, and there are the children, and we all love one another, and he doesn't want any more babies either, so write my, dear unseen friend.
Here is one from Maxwell, Iowa. I should also like to read this into the record: I have been married 10 years and during that time have given birth to 5 children: 3 girls and 2 boys. After the third one was born, I suffered a severe breakdown in health. It weakened my heart and stomach to such an extent that I am unable to do a big day's work. Whenever I do, I am so tired and exhausted I cannot sleep for hours. I have lain awake many and many a night, so tired my heart just pounded and thumped. Oh, but it is terrible. No one knows what it is like unless they have it to go through with. The children are so close together. They are all just like babes yet and are so noisy and fight and fuss till I am almost crazy. The oldest one died, so I have only four living but that is enough. I did not act right when the last one was born. I just had to gasp for breath and had such a strangled feeling. If we had lots of money I might get along better than I do, but my husband is a laboring man and there is no money to pay expensive doctor fees and laundry bills, and so forth. If I could do something harmless to keep from raising any more children my husband and I both would consider it a godsend. e cannot take proper care of the ones we have, let alone any more. My baby is 2 months old and I want to find out something to do before I have the chance to get pregnant again.
Miss Sanger, if you know of anything to help me stop all this, please inform me, for I am getting desperate. I have been tempted to commit suicide many a time. If I had good health, it would not be so bad but I wish you could see me. I married when I was 16. I will be 27 my next birthday and I look older than my husband and he is 35. And I feel older than I look. Everybody speaks about how tired I look and I am tired. So tired, nervous, and worn out I feel like I could drop in the floor and die without a single shudder.
What would this law do? In the first place, it would place the proper responsibility for the giving of information upon the medical profession and hospitals where women go to have their babies, and to these maternal wards in the hospitals. It would give the poor women, who are unable to go to the hospital, the opportunity to go to some member of the medical profession, who has a right to judge such matters. If she could go to the hospital to have her baby, she should be able to get proper information there. It gives the poor woman the right that only the well-to-do have had.
We should like to do more than this law asks for, and I hope before long we can ask for more an appropriation for this work in various States, especially in mountainous sections where women have a difficult time getting to a hospital. We would like to have regular Federal birth-control clinics, maternal-health clinics, where these women may get advice and where they may get proper attention. We hope before long that we may ask for just such an appropriation from the Federal Government.
In closing, may I saw there are many aspects of this question that are beyond our scope to deal with today. in my estimation, the placing of information in the hands of qualified persons and permitting them to give out such information would be very beneficial. I would like to see such information given out, regardless of whether there is overpopulation or underpopulation; regardless of whether there is a high birth rate or a low birth rate; regardless of whether there is going to be more or less baby carriages or baby bottles sold.
Regardless of all these commercial and material interests, I would like to see the mothers themselves receive consideration, and we must trust the mother that she is, going to use that advice, not only for the benefit of her child and her family but for the benefit of the community and the country. I believe that we should consider, under the Constitution of this country, that every woman should have the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and I ask you favorable consideration of this legislation. [Applause]
Senator LOGAN. Thank you, Mrs. Sanger.
Mrs SANGER. Mr. Chairman, I would like to cover just one point of rebuttal and, if you will allow me, I would like to have Dr. Prentiss Willson speak later.
Mr. Chairman, there seems to be a good deal of confusion concerning this law and the amendment that is proposed. As Stevenson said, "condemnation is misunderstanding." I should like to feel that is exactly the situation here, that it is misunderstanding. In the first place, the amendment that we are proposing and that is under discussion is not the law. The laws are already on the statute books in sections 211, 245, and 312 of the Criminal Code. They were enacted by Congress over 60 years ago.
All the conditions our opponents claim would happen in case this bill or this amendment passes are taking place with the law as it is now and as it has been for over 60 years. All that we ask is that this amendment exempt the medical profession, hospitals, and clinics from the penalties of the law. The amendment is simple, it is comprehensive and it is in plain English, so it seems to me any one should understand it.
Now, the reason, in my estimation, that there is this confusion and all the conflict going on that none of us like to see is because there has been such confusion between the State and Federal laws. Forty-seven States allow the physician to give the contraceptive instruction for the "cure or prevention of disease;" other States do not mention the physician at all or do not mention or limit the giving of information to the physicians; and other States allow the medical colleges to instruct.
And so it varies in all of the States. In 24 States they have no restriction whatsoever. We claim that the licensed physicians, hospitals, and clinics are proper sources of information in every State, and we are trying to educate the public accordingly.
All that we are trying to do, I repeat, is to pass this amendment, which affects only the United States mails and common carriers in regard to physicians, hospital and clinics all licensed by their respective State laws. It does not affect these circulars and these things that are already in existence and that have already been forwarded through the mails. We all are opposed to these objectionable things. But one of the reasons they are circulated is because there is no control over this particular kind of literature.
No physician is going to give contraceptive advice on the telephone nor is a physician going to use the United States mails to instruct a patient. It is absurd to even think of it. What the physician is going to do, is to get through the mails and common carriers better instruction and information himself, as well as necessary supplies, which he has not been able to have because of this law. As we have shown in the hearing, medical publishers will not publish articles in medical magazines nor in books, nor will they print textbooks on contraception for the medical profession, because of this law. they will not distribute copies or circularize copies of their magazine which might get them into a row by publishing something that is against the law. The consequence is that the medical profession has not, so far, had the advantage of obtaining up-to-date contraceptive information that is freely permitted them in other countries. Not only that, we know from our experience in clinics and our studies and research that advice alone is not enough, there must be some device, either a mechanical or medical means to carry out the doctor's instruction for the patient as he prescribes.
I don't know anything else I can say about these laws. This bill will not permit information to be given indiscriminately, to make it more clear and definite. We must go back to the States and place the responsibility squarely up to the States as to the physician who misuses the law. We will have nothing to do with that. That is a matter for the physicians themselves, to control, and, as the bill states, he must be a legally licensed physician to practice medicine. Now, if the State or Territory is going to license that physician, it is supposed to find out what kind of a doctor he is, and if they give him the right to practice medicine within the proper limits of the law then certainly he should have the same right to use the mails and common carriers.
We have already put into the record the laws, so I won't discuss them in detail, but bear in mind that they have already been admitted. They have gone into the record to show exactly what the State laws are.
The confusion seems to be that because there are obscenity laws in the various States, that they must include also the prohibition on contraceptives, which is not true. We are placing the information in the hands of physicians who are licensed to practice under the State laws. I wish we could get that clear, because I think it is very much to the advantage of all to understand this point.
The other day there were a good many questions asked about the other countries. I think it might be of interest to state that there are two other countries in the world that have laws concerning or prohibiting the dissemination of birth-control literature - Italy and France. These laws have only been in operation since 1918, or since the close of the war. But in neither of these countries is there such a law as we have here in section 211. Their laws do not affect the physician and they do not prohibit the physician from advising the use of contraceptives in his medical profession. They simply do not allow the promiscuous use of articles and advice and information to be hawked on the street corners and in the shops.
The same may be said about England. Very recently there was a bill before the House of Lords, proposed by Lord Dawson, who is the King's physician. In England there has never been any restriction on contraceptive advice or information since 1876. Now Lord Dawson has asked the House of Lords to pass a bill which will not allow the sale of contraceptives on the street corners, or hawked on the streets. The Lords passed the bill 46 to 6; with only 6 of the members against it, because they wanted no restriction whatsoever. There was no question of restricting the physician or medical practice, but those six Lords wanted no restriction whatever because they felt that was not the way to go after abuses, but that necessary reforms had to go further down into the moral conscience of the individual.
Senator HASTINGS. I suppose it is you contention, Mrs. Sanger, that freedom in England has not destroyed the morality of the youth of the nation?
Mrs. SANGER. That is my contention. It is the same with Holland and the other countries. In Holland, for instance, birth control has been better organized than any other country in the world. Over 60 years ago they had placed it in the hands of midwives and nurses and doctors and had the practice of contraception properly directed. They followed up their death rate, and if the child died they sent a nurse into the homes to find out why it died, and in this way they attempted to decrease the death rate. Consequently they have earlier marriages and a large increase in population, which is a very interesting point because , as you can see from their statistics, they have a lower death rate than any country in Europe, so much lower death rate than Japan, for instance, that their survival is practically the same. In other words, Holland has protected its women, has protected all of its women and children, and has done away with, you might say useless, needless deaths of its mothers; and they have more of a population increase proportionately. I think that is a very interesting point in answer to Dr. Ryan's point made here as to the question of decreasing population which I will refer to later.
There are one or two points which I would like to include, among which are the following:
Here is a book that has been brought out entitled Sex Rhythm published with "ecclesiastical approbation" by the Latz Foundation of Chicago, and under the heading of "Consequences of contraception" there is this question:
Question. Are all Catholic doctors in agreement as to the serious physical consequence of contraception?
Answer. Very few have had the occasion to express themselves on this subject in print. Probably the majority of Catholic practicing physicians would subscribe to Dr. F. M. Walshe's statement in the Catholic Medical Guardian of July 1927--
And so on. I would like to include that, if I may. It says:
Hence, however great our forebodings as to the physical evils which may be associated with birth-control practices, we cannot decently initiate an active medical campaign against them, and remain inactive and silent where a much greater evil obtains.
Then, under the heading of procreation in the same book it says:
Question. Are married people obliged to bring into the world all the children they can?
Answer. Far from being of obligation, such a course may be utterly indefensible. Broadly speaking, married couples have not the right to bring into the world children whom they are unable to support, for they would thereby inflict a grievous damage upon society.
I would also like to include that.
I would also like to present a statement by Dr. Leo Wolman, chairman of the Labor Advisory Board of the N.R.A. and a member of the National Labor Board of Washington D.C., as an economist and a man of vision and experience.
Senator NEELY. You may do that; you may put them all in.
The statement by Leo Wolman was omitted by the MSPP editors.
Senator NEELY. Your time is getting short; 15 minutes has gone.
Mrs. SANGER. I have 20 minutes?
Senator NEELY. Yes; but you have used 16 minutes now.
Mrs SANGER. I only have a little more.
Here is a ruling from the Post Office Department for a booklet called Contraceptive Practices addressed to Mrs. H.G. Moore, stating that the use of mails was prohibited.
The letter from the Post Office Department was omitted by the MSPP editors.
Senator NEELY. All of these documents may be printed in the record, without taking your time to discuss them; but if you wish to discuss them, you may proceed.
Mrs. SANGER. Thank you very much. Those are some of the various statements [handing papers to Senator Neely].
The statements produced by Margaret Sanger were omitted by the MSPP editors. ]
Mrs. SANGER. I would like Mr. Chairman, before Dr. Wilson speaks, to read one letter written to me, because it is about a woman who came here from West Virginia.
Mrs. Guthrie has authorized me to furnish you a report of my findings in her case. Mrs Guthrie, many will remember, came as the miner's wife from West Virginia, a mother of 12 children; and here is a summary of her case as we found it when she came here:
The patient is a white woman in late middle life who gives her age as 43, though her physical characteristics are those of a woman at least 10 years older. She states that she hs given birth to 12 children and has had two miscarriages.
I find it goes on to tell the condition of this woman, and the doctor says:
I have seldom seen such a deplorable pelvic condition in any woman. Unquestionably it is due to her too-frequent bearing of children.
Mrs. Guthrie must be, without delay, subjected to extensive pelvic surgery. Above all things her precancerous condition must be remedied at once. In addition to her rectocele should be repaired, her uterine support reestablished, and a surgical sterilization should be performed in order that the bearing of more children may not undo this extensive work of surgical repair.
Here is a woman who came here to testify on behalf of the other miners' wives, and she was found to be in such a deplorable state of condition. We have a letter from this woman today, who pleads for the support of this bill, and concludes her letter as follows:
As the mother of 12 children I will have to close and get ready to go to the hospital, asking the prayers of every religious person. As I believe in God I also believe in birth control for humanity's sake.
Mrs. L. R. GUTHRIE
Father Ryan stated:
I call attention to the obvious fact that unemployment and depression could not be attained to any appreciable extent through birth-control practices for 15 or 20 years.
He overlooks the factors of human distress and mental anguish of millions of mothers living in constant fear of pregnancy, which could be immediately removed by the passage of this bill. Furthermore, families who are at present on the relief rolls of this country, of which there are approximately 4,000,000 today, and those now on the border line, who would be placed on relief if another child were born into that family, could secure immediate relief, if able to go to public-health care clinics and secure information to limit the size of the family during this period of depression and unemployment.
To quote further from the book Rhythm, by Dr. Leo Latz, published with "Ecclesiastical approbation":
Burdens that test human endurance to the utmost limit and to which all too many succumb will be lightened. I speak of economic burdens, the burden of poverty, of inadequate income, of unemployment which make it impossible for parents to give their children and themselves the food, the clothing, the housing, the education, and the recreation they are entitled to as children of God.
Father Ryan says:
Every well-informed person is aware that the change in the Penal Code proposed by this bill would not substantially increase the knowledge or the use of birth control by any class of the population. Prof. Warren Thompson admits this fact in the statement put into the record of the hearings before the House of Judiciary Committee, the 18th of last January.
I quote the passage referred to:
I do not believe that keeping the laws as they are will have any appreciable effect in preventing the decline of the birthrate. * * * I regard contraception as one of those great movements toward human freedom and the rationalization of life. * * * If the Members of Congress could only be made to feel the inevitability of this great movement toward human freedom they would certainly not oppose it.
Obviously there is nothing in Professor Thompson's statement to warrant Father Ryan's assumption.
When Father Ryan stated that there was a decline in the birth rate from 1921 to 1932 he failed to mention that during these very years the population increased nearly 20 million in the United States. As the population grows larger, the rate of increase must slow down. This has been true for the last 100 years. He should take into consideration the decrease in the general death rate and the infant-mortality rate, lessening human suffering and waste of human life.
Father Ryan challenged the statement that the general practice of birth control would stimulate the birth rate in the educated classes. We reply, it has been shown in the cities of northern and western Europe that the democratic practice of birth control has stimulated the birth rate of the educated classes, and they are now having more children per family than the poorer classes (Edin and Bergdorfer).
Father Ryan criticized our criticism of Father Coughlin who said it was a biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply. Our criticism was that Father Coughlin by his celibacy had failed obey this injunction. Father Ryan's explanation is that 30,000 priests and 80,000 nuns in this country would not effect the population increase, for if they married they would provide only 275,000 children or about 2 1/2 to each. Our answer is that if 80,000 nuns were not practicing birth control they could be potential mothers of 800,000 children, providing they did not interfere with the Divine command to increase and multiply. Father Ryan states that the contention of the proponents of this bill is that the duty of providing for the poor rests upon themselves rather than the State--by foregoing normal family life or by having no children or very few children.
Yes, we do contend that self-respecting people "poor" or "near poor" prefer to help themselves and keep free from public or private charity, by bringing into the world only the number of children they can decently provide for. The practice of birth control through the passage of S. 1842 will enable such families to live normal sex lives. It will make possible the natural relations of family life by bringing a family of 10 or 15 children to become a public charge on the community often becoming inmates of prisons, insane asylums, almshouses, or public institutions.
When Father Ryan claims that a change in the law now would be tantamount to a public declaration that the long-established legal attitude and policy were wrong, he made the weakest point in his long chain of weak arguments. We believe that it was never right to couple contraception with abortion, indecency, and obscenity. Congress made that blunder 60 years ago. It will amend this law as it repealed the eighteenth amendment, when public opinion demanded it.
Finally, Dr. Ryan says:
We oppose any change in the law which we believe and know to be intrinsically and profoundly immoral - the natural law which forbids contraception.
To what law does he refer? It is a natural law for man to use his reason, his intelligence, and "inborn" intuitive faculties, drawn from Nature herself. It is natural to desire children. It is natural to desire only the number of children one can decently provide for. It is also natural for people endowed with a sense of responsibility for their children to use their natural intelligence to apply scientific knowledge to their problems, for the welfare of their children, the community, and the country as a whole. Intelligence is a part of nature as well as the animal function of reproduction.
Mrs. Gibbs' testimony should be disregarded as an opponent to bill S. 1842. Her position is ridiculous.
She stated that she had borne four children in 6 years. For 20 years she has had an ophthalmic goitre, and has had no further pregnancies, her physician having advised her how to avoid further childbearing. How selfish and hypocritical to oppose the granting of similar information to other mothers. Mrs. Gibbs is fortunate to live in Baltimore and have the means to obtain proper information which has safeguarded her health and life. Yet she would deny the right to less fortunate women to receive the same advice. Her case proves to be one of our contentions that pregnancy may jeopardize the life of women.
Mr. Burton introduced Reverend Chase as representing the International Reform Federation. This is incorrect. We have already filed a statement from Rev. Clarence True Wilson, vice president of this organization, which states that the International Reform Federation has taken no action on the legislation. The statement of Reverend Chase is merely his personal opinion.
Canon Chase infers the Lambeth Conference of Bishops went on record as opposed to birth control, which is untrue. We take exception to this statement and quote herewith a paragraph from this statement of Lambeth Conference which reads as follows:
If there is a good moral reason why the way of abstinence should not be followed, we cannot condemn the use of scientific methods to prevent conception * * *
First, it will give the doctors, hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, public, State, and county health agencies the right to order and receive, through the mails and common carriers, the articles needed to protect the health of these women who need such protection.
It will place the giving of this information in the hands of qualified persons who will be responsible for its dissemination.
The opponents did not refute nor can they refute the scientific facts, medical and economic, as presented by the proponents of this bill. They did not deny that maternal health is jeopardized by too many births; that abortions are the result of too frequent pregnancies,; that physicians should have the legal right to give contraceptive advice when necessary.
They admit that 47 States allow the dissemination of contraceptive information.
They admit that the laws as they stand today are violated on a wholesale scale.
They admit that the whole subject is out of control of the law, contraceptive articles being scattered promiscuously, regardless of their need or proper use.
On all major facts we are in agreement.
To the proponents it is a question of national health, economic responsibility, and individual liberty.
The opponents have thus far not produced a distinguished scientist, either economist or sociologist, eugenicist, or population authority, at any of these hearings, nor have they had representatives of any non-Catholic organizations, except Mr. Ralph Burton, their chairman.
While non-Catholic individuals have opposed this bill, they each and every one have proclaimed they represented no organization. Mrs. Rufus Gibbs; Dr. Gerry Morgan, dean of medical school of Georgetown University, a Catholic university; Rev. Thomas Boorde, Canon Sheafe Chase; Dr. W. Henry Cattell; Mr. Soloman--all others represent Catholic organizations and thus attempt to impose their "beliefs" upon the American people.
We could respect and understand, though profoundly disagree with, our opponents, if they came here and said:
This is our conception of morality. It is our religious belief that birth control is wrong. We cannot concede to any interference with the laws of Nature and we prefer slums, overcrowding, disease, filth, maternal, and infant mortality, child labor, prostitution, illiteracy, unemployment, crime, imbecility, national decadence, and wars to any change in these laws--
But we cannot respect the attitude, the loose thinking, and the hypocrisy of those who oppose birth-control practices and offer no practice alternative to take its place.
They base their entire case on Catholic morality, and would impose this upon the American people, which is an arrogant assumption of authority.
I wonder if Dr. Wilson would tell us something of the medical conditions, or the consequences.
[Statement of Dr. Prentiss Wilson, M.D. was excluded and not transcribed]
Mrs. SANGER. Dr. Cattell mentioned in his letter the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, as to their stand on birth control. Here is a pamphlet that was brought out by the Committee on Marriage and Home of the Federal Council which I would like to put into the record. It contains excerpts from statements made by religious leaders. I think it has not gone in as yet.
Senator NEELY. If it is in the record, we will not duplicate it. It apparently seems to have been lost. Is that all, Mrs. Sanger?
Mrs. SANGER. Yes.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project